Rapid Fire 08.26.04

Hello, and welcome to another edition of Rapid Fire. It’s a wonderful Thursday, so pull up a chair and start your day with us at Inside Pulse. On behalf of all of the gaming Kliq, thanks for reading.

No news this week, but one thing I did want to touch on, then we’ll go to the fun stuff…

The XSN Sports Aftermath
As most of you know, Microsoft has decided to shut down XSN Sports for good. I think we all saw this coming; however, it’s depressing to see this come to fruition. And I also think we all know why this happened.

Essentially, the dissolving of XSN Sports came about once EA decided to get on board with X-Box Live. The XSN games, while impressive in their own right, were the truest showcases of what X-Box Live could do. The XSN Sports leagues were a step in the right direction; what gaming could become if the focus is on making the gamer happy.

Instead, we get a slap in the face, with Reality’s cold hand striking us all. We now see that “loyalty” has its price. This cannot be a cordial relationship between the two companies. It’s almost like a woman who gives up all of her hopes and dreams to be with a man who cheats on her. Sure, EA offers X-Box Live… but they also created the PS2-only Madden Collector’s Edition and, if you believe what you hear, intentionally slowed down the X-Box version of Madden to make the PS2 version superior.

Who knows how good the XSN line could have become? NFL Fever showed some promise, and Top Spin was phenomenal. There were definitely signs of hope that could have blossomed into something special. Imagine if Sega had thrown in the towel on its 2K line after the first season. While the 2K games were much further along after Year One than the XSN titles, it was possible that it could have become a three-way race for the sports crown. Now, we’ll never know.

All this because Microsoft felt it could sell a few more copies by allowing online play from EA’s games, and because EA wouldn’t consent to Live without taking some serious collateral. THIS is the business of gaming, folks. It isn’t pretty. And one day, it’ll ensure that no competition can ever exist.

Alex Williams posted the Column of the Week last week with his piece on DDR, its loyal fanbase, and the company that listens to this group of supporters. Wouldn’t it be something if EVERY company behaved like this, and if every game had fans like these who acually appreciate the efforts of game developers?

I totally agree with Cory on NFL Street. It simply lacks the appeal that NBA Street has. Seriously, how often do you see people playing football on the “street”? Compare that to the amount of people you see shooting hoops every day. That’s the difference between the two games.

Darth Charizard chimes in with a letter…

I’m an aspiring game developer (yes I’m aware of what it’s going to take, I’m already finding ways around pricing) and I’ve programmed a few games before and I learn everything I can about developing next-gen games so I have a pretty good idea of what goes on in development. Whenever they come up with new ideas, they have to find a way to code it. The problem is, it’s very hard to gauge how long that will take. First, they have to program the alpha, then they have to fix all the bugs. I once had a single bug plague a calculator game of mine for a couple months. Once they finally fix all the bugs they see, it becomes a beta, which has to be tested. Then the beta testers report bugs and things that they think should be changed. Then they have to make the changes and find bugs in those before the master is sent to the publisher. This could be why they keep pushing release dates back. Even if it’s not, atleast it’s better than thinking they just dont care about gamers.

OK, here’s the thing. Game developers don’t HAVE to push the envelope when it comes to deadlines. I get that there’s a lot that goes into developing a game. But take music, for example. Records don’t get released until two, three, or even four months after they’ve been recorded. That’s why their release dates are so reliable. The only changes that are made are CDs coming out early due to heavy bootlegging.

The point is, make the game first, THEN say when it’s going to come out. This would save developers the embarrassment of announcing a game delayed, and spare potential buyers of a reason to avoid making the purchase. By planning as far ahead as possible, things get done in a more orderly fashion. That’s what record labels and movie studios do. Game companies should be no different.

And one more from Myles McNutt…

I couldn’t help but snicker when you were talking about Catwoman. Because, as you may or may not know, the NPD Game Sales for July came out the other day. And…

PS2 CATWOMAN $371,549 9,335
XBX CATWOMAN $154,832 3,883
GCN CATWOMAN $137,989 3,462
GBA CATWOMAN $58,442 1,952

If they make it, they will not come. Take that, Costner. Looks like shoveling out crap movie licenses might have finally caught up with someone; Electronic Arts no less.

It made my day, maybe it will make yours!

This was definitely pleasing to me. Nice to see that gamers can sniff out a rat when one’s present. Even if that rat was the product of one of the worst movie premises ever. Still, you take what you can get.

THE INDUSTRY – More Than Just The System
Take a look at the buzz surrounding the upcoming next generation of consoles. You hear about the potential for a TiVo-like device built into the PS3. You see that people are mad that they might not be able to play their original X-Box games on the next X-Box console. And you learn that nobody has any idea what Nintendo has planned, but you know it’s not going to let you play online.

And you look at all of this, and you notice one common thread – that none of the hype for the next generation has anything to do with the next generation of gaming.

Maybe Nintendo fans really would like to play online, but they have to know that it’ll never happen under Satoru Iwata’s watch. So, aside from that, you hear virtually nothing about the specs of these systems. Nobody knows which one will have the best graphics. Nobody knows which one will have the best controller. But you are sure you heard that you’ll probably be able to record DVDs on the PS3.

The obvious question is, why the preoccupation with all things non-gaming? Shouldn’t the focus be on how these systems will help satisfy our gaming cravings?

Here’s a theory that seems quite valid. When gamers buy their first new system of the generation, they see it as the best available option. Only when competition betters this system does the gamer become frustrated with his current setup. And there’s a lot of truth in this. When you bought your PS2 way back in 2000, you thought it was the greatest thing ever. Then, X-Box came out and you suddenly realized that the PS2 wasn’t exactly the Second Coming when it came to graphics. And if you didn’t turn in your PS2 to GameStop for an X-Box, you probably thought about it for a brief second. That’s all it takes in this industry.

There’s a business term that’s very relevant in the gaming industry, and it’s called “second mover advantage”. In gaming language, it says that the second system that’s released in a generation is at an advantage over the first upon release. First, it’s more technologically current. Second, its creators had the opportunity to see what worked – and what didn’t work – with the first. This allows for some last-minute additions to the system model.

And this is where the non-gaming elements are going to come in for the upcoming generation. It’s looking like X-Box Next will launch first. So you can bet Sony will be paying very close attention to the public’s reaction to the system. For example, if Microsoft doesn’t include a hard drive and people are mad about it, look for Sony to add one into the PS3 and emphasize this feature during launch.

These non-gaming elements are the ones that gamers will be looking for in the upcoming years. This, of course, is because the console developers want it this way. Now, a Sony or Microsoft or Nintendo can shift the public’s focus from the gaming technology to the non-gaming technology. This is something that we’ll see a lot of before the next generation arrives. You’ll hear terms like “total entertainment package” more than you have any right to. If you’re a gaming purist, you’ll wish they just worried about the games. If you’re a technologically savvy person, odds are good that you’ll have all of the extra stuff already. The group that will be influenced most is the group with the most buying power – casual gamers.

The same people who put Grand Theft Auto and Madden Football atop the sales charts each year will be the the deal-breakers in the upcoming console cycle. They will be easily swayed by the allure of having a multi-purpose game system. These are the people who plan on buying one system at launch, so they want to kill two birds with one stone if possible. And if the technological package is correct, odds are very good that the extras will outweigh the gaming features of the system.

The addition of all of these gadgets – most of which we may already have by the time the systems arrive – are slated to make a big difference in the systems we end up buying. Look at what they’re doing to the hype right now. This is exactly what the console developers want, because it’s what the casual gamers want. The fringe benefits of owning a system are beginning to outweigh the practical (i.e. gaming) benefits of buying one. That’s just wrong. Is it because of altruism on the part of the companies? Or are they just scared that nobody will buy unless they package together a concoction of whatever technology mediums are selling at that time? Either way, it’s about more than just the system, and it will remain this way for a long time.

That’ll do it for this week’s edition of Rapid Fire. Thanks for reading. Next week, the DVD Effect. See you then!